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Michel Callon, Michel Foucault and the “ dispositif ”Hervé Dumez, Alain Jeunemaitre
To cite this version:Hervé Dumez, Alain Jeunemaitre. Michel Callon, Michel Foucault and the “ dispositif ”: Wheneconomics fails to be performative: A case study. Le Libellio d’AEGIS, Libellio d’AEGIS, 2010, 6 (4),pp.27-37. �hal-00546736�
Le Libellio d’ AEGIS
Vol. 6, n° 4 – Hiver 2010
Michel Callon, Michel Foucault and the « dispositif » When economics fails to be performative: A case study
Hervé Dumez & Alain Jeunemaître
CNRS / École Polytechnique
I n recent years, many important studies have focused on performativity or
performation of economics (among others, see Callon, Milo & Muniesa, 2007;
MacKenzie, Muniesa & Siu, 2007). Together with authors such as Yuval Millo,
Fabian Muniesa, Donald MacKenzie, or Lucia Siu, Michel Callon has played an
important role in this field. Most of these scholars have highlighted the way in which
economics performs real world. We will, in contrast, focus on the opposite. Drawing
on the case of air traffic management (ATM) in Europe, a case we have been working
on for about ten years, we will attempt to show how economics failed to perform this
industry. Our purpose is not to offer a kind of refutation or falsification of the
performativity theory from a Popperian stance. Obviously, this theory acknowledges
the fact that economics does not always perform the economy. Rather our aim is to
refine the theory, to pinpoint some paradoxes related to performativity or
performation, and to bring forward thinkable promising research perspectives.
We shall begin by examining what, in Michel Callon‟s perspective, constitutes and
does not constitute the performativity of economics. Then, we will have a look at
Michel Foucault‟s notion of « dispositif » (apparatus or device), to explore how
Callon relies on Foucault, but also how Foucault can still be useful when
approaching the notion of device. After that, we will present the selected case, air
traffic management (ATM) in Europe. Finally, we will discuss this case in connection
with the theoretical framework.
Michel Callon on performativity (or performation)
To understand what Michel Callon has in mind when using the notion of
performativity or performation, it is useful first to understand what it is not or what
it is opposed to.
First, performativity is opposed to embeddedness, to the idea that economy is
embedded in a social world that determines it. What seems interesting to Michel
Callon is not how the economy is embedded, but how it succeeds in gaining
autonomy from the social world. Michel Callon, here, is quite in line with Fernand
Braudel (1979/1992) when he showed how the economy tried to free itself, in a
difficult and slow process, from the social world, especially religion. Emphasis is
therefore placed on the mechanisms that allow the economy to become separate from
the social environment and, reciprocally, on how the social can thereafter be
economized: « the question is not: what do we call economic behavior, or what is the
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economy, but how are behaviors, institutions, agencements, and rules of the game
economized? » (Callon, 2008, p. 22).
Principally since Walras (Dumez, 1985), distinctions are made between pure and
applied, and positive and normative economics. On the one hand, there would be the
abstract world of models, explicitly or implicitly normative, and on the other hand,
there would be the real world to which these models would be or should be applied.
The notion of performativity questions these distinctions.
Something similar can be said in connection with the concept of convention, or the
idea that agents must agree on rules and norms before acting, and in order to
interact. These rules, explicit or tacit, would be the necessary condition of
coordinated economic behaviors. According to Michel Callon, however, conventions
could be and must be forgotten. Performativity is something very different from
agreed upon rules.
Performativity can also be contrasted to self-fulfilling prophecies. If all agents
believe something will happen and act accordingly, it turns out the thing happens.
Michel Callon considers this mechanism to be simplistic, and not to correspond to the
way economics performs reality.
Finally, performativity must be distinguished from (neo) institutionalism. In order
to function, the economy is said to need institutions. Michel Callon thinks the notion
of institution is too static: it can explain how an economic state can reproduce itself,
but not how it can evolve. And institutions are stuck: they do not explain how they
can evolve themselves. They are a framework and, as such, seem unable to change
and let change happen. In Michel Callon‟s view, old as new institutionalisms lack
Thus, to understand what Michel Callon means by performativity or performation,
we must first examine the large and impressive set of ideas from which this notion is
intended to break. These ideas include all the well-known theories regarding the
economic world, orthodox as much as heterodox, Nobel-prize winning or otherwise.
The second step consists of focusing on what Michel Callon concentrates when
speaking of performativity, namely the economic discourse and devices.
Regarding economic discourse, Michel Callon thinks it is important to go beyond the
distinction between the disciplinary, scientific, academic economic theory, and the
spontaneous economic theory by practitioners. To capture that, we introduced, when
analyzing price control practice in France between 1936 and 1986, the expression
« spontaneous (economic) theory » (Dumez & Jeunemaître, 1989). The academic
official theory condemns price control as an infringement of the free market
mechanism. The price controllers, some pure practitioners, other (like Taussig or
J. K. Galbraith) trained in academic economics, invented a sort of spontaneous
theory of the practice (« spontaneous philosophy » is an expression by Gramsci,
taken over by Althusser, 1967). When dealing with the performativity of economics,
Michel Callon (2006) speaks of « economics at large », which means academic
economic theory as economic “theory” made by practitioners, or spontaneous
economic theory. « Economics at large » is a domain that avoids the traditional
distinctions between pure and applied, positive and normative economics, and
subsumes the various types of economic discourse.
What Michel Callon has in mind when forging such a large and undetermined
domain, is to show that performativity relies on the creativity (models, algorithms,
spontaneous economic reasoning) of the agents – of all types of agents, practitioners
as well as academics. In that perspective, experimental economics appears as one of
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the most important development of recent years. During the initial period,
experimental economics was not very creative: the aim was to « test » models, to see
whether or not they matched agents‟ real behaviors. As economists are poor
Popperians, and behave themselves rather as scientists in Thomas Kuhn‟s
description, i.e. they are not very interested in falsifying their theories, experimental
economics was for them mostly a matter of indifference. Things changed when
experimental economics no longer limited itself to testing models, but sought to
invent new forms of markets. Michel Callon believes that, through the experimental
approach, economics is enlarging the gap between itself and other social sciences:
« L’expérimentation à la fois comme creuset où s’élabore la théorie et comme cadre qui
permet à cette théorie d’avoir des effets, est devenue selon moi un enjeu
majeur » [« experimentation is at the same time the crucible in which theory is
elaborated, and the framework allowing this theory to have effects; today,
experimentation has become a major challenge »] (Callon, 2006, pp. 26-27). Fabian
Muniesa and Michel Callon speak of « experimental performation ».
Performativity can be thus rooted in theory or practice. In this process, argues
Michel Callon, devices are essential. In an interview, Michel Callon (2008) explains
that, since The laws of the markets (1998), he may have changed his mind on
performativity, which became performation or coperformation, but not regarding
devices. These are the central, invariant, elements of the approach (Callon, Milo &
Muniesa, 2007; MacKenzie, Muniesa & Siu, 2007). There is a paradox here. Strictly
speaking, performativity designates a discourse that is at the same time an act that
changes the world. The change in the world coincides with the uttering. The first
historical statement of performativity, the one by Varro in his De lingua latina, is
clear-cut: « Spondere est dicere spondeo » (« To promise is to say: I promise »). In
Michel Callon‟s perspective, the performativity or performation of economics
definitely does not work in that way. Economics performs the real world if and only
if socio-technical devices exist that make the performation possible. If devices are
few and limited, the performation of economics is rare and limited (Callon, 2006, p.
26). Theory becomes true if devices let it become true. In the perspective of the Actor
Network Theory (ANT), devices as non-human actors act, and in a sense even act
more truly, than human actors. Michel Callon underlines two additional points.
Upstream, devices are rooted in algorithms. These algorithms may be anchored in
academic theory, and be presented and discussed in economic journals, or in practice
and spontaneous theory. Upstream again, in order for economic devices to work,
goods must have been created as abstract or concrete objects that are both valuable
and exchangeable. Downstream, Michel Callon insists on the calculative skills with
which the agents must be equipped. But the analytical core of the approach is the
device itself. A simple algorithm, the creation of valuable goods, the agents‟
calculative equipment not by themselves sufficient to make economics performative.
For instance, the agents‟ calculative equipment is created by the devices, and not the
other way around, even if there is always at the same time framing and overflowing
(which makes the difference with institutionalism). Since Michel Callon refers to
Michel Foucault when speaking of devices and performativity, it might be useful to
turn to the latter to understand what devices are in the former‟s perspective.
Michel Foucault and the « dispositif » (device, or apparatus)
Michel Foucault uses the French word « dispositif », which is translated as
« apparatus » (Agamben) or device (Callon), and sometimes let in French as English
translations are not completely satisfying. Actually, the word « dispositif » comes
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from very far away in the past. Agamben (2009) has tried to draw its genealogical
tree. In French, « dispositif » originally means the final part of a sentence, where
reasons of the decision reached by the judge are explained in an ordered way. Then it
means the way a general intentionally disposes his forces to get the maximum
defensive or offensive impact. But Foucault takes the word from his master in
philosophy, Jean Hyppolite. Hyppolite wrote on the young Hegel‟s Die Positivität
der Christlichen Religion, where Hegel drew a distinction between natural religion, a
direct contact with divinity, and the positive religions made of prescriptions,
discourses and rituals that constrain religious behaviors. In this context,
« dispositif » comes from the Latin dispositio, which translates the Greek oekonomia
in a religious sense. The word has been used, especially by Ireneas of Lyon, to mean
the way God intentionally organizes the salvation of humanity – what is called the
economy of salvation (Fantino, 1994).
As for Foucault, the crucial reference in this connection is an interview he gave to
the psychoanalytic French journal Ornicar in 1977:
[By « dispositif », I mean:] firstly, a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble
consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory
decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical
and moral propositions – in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are
the elements of that apparatus. The apparatus itself is the system of
relations that can be established between these elements. Secondly, what I
am trying to identify in this apparatus is precisely the nature of the
connection that can exist between these heterogeneous elements. Thus, a
particular discourse can figure at one time as the program of an institution,
and at another it can function as a means of justifying or masking a practice
which itself remains silent, or as a secondary re-interpretation of this
practice, opening out for it a new field of rationality. In short, between these
elements, discursive or non-discursive, there is a sort of interplay of shifts of
position and modifications of function, which can also vary very widely.
Thirdly, I understand by the term „apparatus‟ a sort of – shall we say –
formation which has as its major function at a given historical moment that
of responding to an urgent need. The apparatus thus has a dominant
strategic function […] there is a first moment, which is the prevalent
influence of a strategic objective. Next, the apparatus as such is constructed
and enabled to continue in existence insofar as it is the site of a double
process. On the one hand, there is a process of functional over-determination
[…] on the other hand, there is a perpetual process of strategic elaboration.
(Foucault, 1980, pp. 194-195)
Why is this text interesting in our perspective? First, because it shows the direct
connection between Michel Callon‟s and Michel Foucault‟s analysis of devices. A
device (or apparatus, i.e. a « dispositif ») has a hybrid nature. It is made of discourses
and non-discourses (« du dit et du non dit »). It is the relationships between these
heterogeneous elements that really count, and they can be complex. A discourse can
be the programme of an institution, or, on the contrary, be disconnected from
practices and conceal them (the practices being themselves silent, « muettes »). But it
can also be an a posteriori interpretation of practices that developed ahead of it. One
can see in Michel Callon‟s work the same complex relationships affecting discourses
and non-discourses, the idea that devices structure behaviors and therefore act, the
notion that devices are made of knowledge and, at the same time, produce
The second reason for paying attention to Michel Foucault here is that one element
present in his text seems to have (at least partially) disappeared in Michel Callon‟s
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work, i.e. the particular dynamics of devices as structured in two phases. The
creation of devices is marked by an « urgent need » (as Michel Foucault puts it).
Then, during the second phase, new, unanticipated functions, strategies, and
processes emerge and contribute to stabilize and entrench the device (if it does not
rapidly disappear). So Michel Foucault‟s vision is an invitation to focus on two
distinct moments: the appearance of the device, and its stabilization, a strategy that
uncovers continuities and discontinuities.
Let us now analyze a case study to discuss Michel Foucault‟s and Michel Callon‟s
ideas on performation and devices.
The case of the European Air Traffic Management
The selected case is an industry that, at its very beginning, was not conceived as a
market and was kept off from the usual economic models and tools (profit,
competition), and is now exposed in Europe to performation or performativity of
economics: the Air Traffic Management (ATM), which consists mainly in Air Traffic
Control, but also in flow management1.
The control of the movements in the
sky goes back to the Franco-Prussian
war of 1870-1871, when balloons were
used by both armies: Did states have
the right to control the sky above their
territory? The question became more
topical at the time of the first airplane
race in 1909. Blériot, the winner, flew
accross the English Channel, taking off
in France to land in the United Kingdom. An international conference was set up in
Paris the following year, but no agreement was reached. Two principles of law
oppose each other in this context. The first one is the sovereignty of nation states.
Could a foreign plane be allowed to fly over Paris and land somewhere in France
without the French State having been informed and having authorized it? The
second one was formulated by Grotius in 1609 in his Mare liberum, and establishes
that the seas – here, the skies – cannot be the property of a state and must remain
free of access. The debate raged for thirty years until 1944, when the Chicago
Convention was signed by more than fifty states. The Convention stipulates that a
plane can freely fly over a country, provided it does not land, or lands to refuel
without embarking or disembarking any passenger or good. But each country is
entitled to define routes and to control the planes flying over its territory. Countries,
however, are not allowed to set up a toll. With the development of jets, security
became a major problem.
A propeller generally has enough time left to avoid collision with another propeller
when both can see each other. But when a jet notices another jet, it is usually too
late, and the collision is inevitable. It therefore becomes necessary to define routes
and corridors, to create radar coverage in order to determine where each aircraft is
located, to organize phone calls so that controllers can give instructions to the pilots.
This costs a lot. At the beginning of the 1970s, it was admitted that the aircraft
crossing the sky of a country must pay for the development of these technically
sophisticated and heavy systems. It remained clear that this involved only cost
recovery, and not a toll to give access to the sky, which remained free for all. In the
which US, the air traffic management was provided by a public administration (the
Federal Aviation Authority), and a tax collected on each ticket (and indicated as
1. For a more detailed
presentation, see Beyer,
2008; Brooker, 2003; Button
& McDougall, 2006; Dumez
& Jeunemaître, 2001; 2010.
le Blériot XI
qui a traversé la Manche
le 25 juillet 1909
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such on the ticket itself). In Europe, each aircraft pays route charges to every
country it has crossed the sky. In the 1970s, the air carrier market was regulated,
competition was limited, and profits were substantial. To pass the cost of air traffic
management on to the passengers was not a big issue.
We have presented (very briefly) the case. It is striking that the ATM industry was
maintained off the usual economic rules of competition and profit. Two questions
then arise: can the ATM be analyzed as a device, and, if yes, in what sense? If it can
be analyzed as a device, what is it the performation of?
ATM both presents a unity and is heterogeneous. The unity comes from an intention
or intentionality: making flight as free and secure as possible. The heterogeneity
comes from an intertwining of rules (both legal and technical) and technical systems
(radars, telecoms, screens of control, huge software that compute flight plans data
and helps controllers in their task), i.e. from an intertwining of discourses and non-
discourses. This complex heterogeneous system governs the behavior of pilots, air
carriers, controllers, and states. It relies on legal and technical knowledge and know-
how, and it produces knowledge, as any control system does. Insofar as it
encompasses algorithms, there are good reasons for considering it as a device in
Foucault‟s and Callon‟s sense. This applies, for instance, to the determination of the
en-route charges aimed at recovering costs. The algorithm takes into account the
distance flown in the sky of the country crossed over, the square root of take-off
weight of the aircraft, and a service unit defined by each country on the basis of the
costs of the national ATM system and of the number of controlled flights per year.
Another algorithm manages the disequilibria between the flight plans asked for by
the air carriers and the capacity of control in real time.
If the answer to the first question is that there are indeed good reasons to see the
ATM as a device in Foucault‟s and Callon‟s sense, then we can turn to the second
one: what is this device the perfomation of? Analysis tends to indicate it is the
performation of law with the help of engineering. Law, a subtle and complex
combination aimed at managing liberty of flight and national sovereignty
simultaneously, thus relied on engineering to establish the device.
Now comes a third question: what place was given to economics in that device?
Economics was intentionally contained and its place reduced to a minimum. Profit
was eliminated; the only implemented economic principle was that the en-route
charges must be cost-related. But the cost-relation is weak: each country announces
its costs and recovers them. There is no in-depth control of these costs. However, an
attentive look demonstrates that economics is not completely absent. To a controller,
any aircraft, whatever its type, is a point on a screen and must be handled so as to
avoid potential collisions. The aircraft is controlled as long as it stays within a
country‟s sky. Costs are related to control duration, and, as an approximation that is
easier to calculate, to the distance flown in the national sky. In Europe, however,
another factor is taken into account: the takeoff weight of the aircraft. While the
task of control is exactly the same for both large and small airplanes, the former pay
more, though only in relation to the square root of their weight. Big machines thus
cross-subsidize small ones, but not too much. The algorithm organizes cross-
subsidization. More generally, the device as a whole, supposed to perform law and
engineering but not economics, entails nonetheless cross-subsidization. We will
return to that crucial point. The answer to the third question is mixed. Economics
was not present in the device when it was created, and then it penetrated it in a very
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Things changed in the 1980s when air transportation was deregulated. Competition
became fierce with the apparition of low cost companies. This had two main
consequences: operational margins, which were comfortable until then, decreased
dramatically and traffic exploded. As regards ATM, it appeared at the same time
very costly (eroding the operational margins of the air carriers) and inefficient
(delays grew, peaking in 1988-89). This raised the issue of performance. Economics
was called for at two different levels: the transformation of the whole industry into a
market, and the introduction of limited economic mechanisms. In the 1990s it was
discussed to merge all the different national upper airspaces into one European
unified upper airspace, and to organize auction procedures for the entire block or a
few great partial blocks. This assumed that part of the airspace was transformed
from an object of national sovereignty into a valuable, exchangeable, good.
Competition was set up – not in the market, but for the market – through an auction
mechanism between the different national service providers, individually or allied.
Technically, specialists agreed that it would be possible to control the entire
European upper airspace with four of five centers (in the current situation, each
country has at least one center, large countries such as France, Germany or the
United Kingdom have several). The creation of a market lay within the framework
of a general development where the deregulation of air transportation and the
privatization of airports and control towers had created real markets. How could the
European ATM have lasted as a legal-technical device, like an isolated islet on an
ocean of markets?
However, the insertion of the ATM in an economy of competition and profit
stumbled against the sovereignty of nation states. In particular, states put military
issues in the forefront to keep in place their national service providers of air traffic
control. It was an excuse more than anything else, since the European military are
aware that an efficient air defense is impossible in the framework of one single
country: Paris is only two hundred kilometers off the boundary with Belgium. At a
time of jet fighters and crusader missiles, the air defense of Paris takes place far away
from French boundaries. That is why European Air Forces strongly cooperate within
NATO. But of course, it is also true that they must be able to take over the national
sky in case of a major crisis. This can be guaranteed, even if the upper airspace is
normally managed on a European basis.
The crucial issue was not really there. Any transformation of the European ATM
industry into a market would have deeply changed the multiple cross-subsidization
mechanisms established by the legal-technical device. As said before large aircraft
pay for smaller ones, and big international air carriers for regional companies.
Regional companies could therefore disappear with the introduction of market
mechanisms. Besides, the separation between upper and lower airspace emphasizes
the fact that upper airspace is far less costly to control than the lower. In the upper
airspace, aircraft remain at the same altitude. In contrast, when approaching the
ground, they change altitude and direction. The control task is far more complex and
costly. When upper and lower airspace are not separated, high-altitude flights pay
for flights that leave or approach airports. US companies that fly over Europe pay
for European carriers that use airports in the continent. If, however, upper and lower
airspaces were separated, US companies would end up paying less, and European
ones more. The development of a market would make visible the existing hidden
cross-subsidization; thus, European air carriers, which would be inclined to favor the
development of a more efficient market, actually block it.
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At the same time, the legal-technical device has shown a true capacity of innovation.
When delays reached a maximum, an organization, the Central Flow Management
Unit, was set up to manage in real time the disequilibria between the demand from
the air carriers and the capacities offered by the European service providers of air
traffic control. The disequilibria could have been interpreted as a classic economic
issue, as an imbalance between supply and demand to be dealt with by such
economic tools as congestion pricing. The economic approach was discussed, but not
adopted. Rather, a management algorithm was chosen, which follows the principle
of first-come, first-served. It processes flight plans one after the other and, if demand
exceeds supply (the capacity of control), it stops aircraft on the ground. Before the
implementation of that algorithm, aircraft took off and were delayed in flight. This
costed a lot in fuel. The new device has therefore positive economic consequences.
Nevertheless, it is not a performation of theoretical economic ideas or of a
spontaneous economic reasoning, but rather an engineering device with a law
principle: treat every aircraft, which means every company, big or small, on an equal
footing. In the same perspective, the European Commission, with its plan for the
industry (The Single European Sky), created another legal-technical device, the
Functional Airspace Blocks. It is inspired by the idea that considerable technical
efficiency gains could come from organizing control according to airspace blocks
larger than the national airspaces. The FABs were created by a European rule (law)
with a technical basis (they must be « functional »); they therefore constitute a legal-
technical device. The economic dimension was left backstage.
At the very beginning, FABs were seen as concerning only upper airspace. But the
upper/lower separation was later abandoned to avoid cross-subsidization. Another
example is given by en-route charges. They remain collected by the states for the
flown distance in their own sky. Let us suppose France and Switzlerland decide to
establish a FAB, putting together part of their airspace. If the aim is a better
functional performance, routes will probably be modified, and become more rational
than the previous ones, which took into account the boundary between France and
Switzerland (the new route will be shorter in the French sky, for example, and longer
in the Swiss sky). But every change of a route will create a loss for one of the
countries, and a mechanical gain for the other (here a loss for France and a gain for
Switzerland). Technical restructuration is therefore impeded by its economic
In conclusion, performation by economics failed to replace performation by law, with
the helping hand of engineering to shape the device. This failure operates at the
general level of attempting to transform the industry into a market. Economic
elements were nonetheless introduced into the legal-technical device. Some public
service providers have been transformed into economic agents through privatization.
In the United Kingdom, for example, a licence has been given for thirty years to an
alliance of airline companies led by British Airways through an auction mechanism.
The framework nonetheless remains the entire national sky, not separated into an
upper and a lower airspace. Economic agents have been set up, but without the
creation of a European market device. Economics stepped in with the proposal for
substitutes for market mechanisms, something on which academic economists have
been working since the 1980s. Such mechanisms mainly consist in regulatory policies.
The European Commission imposed on each country a separation between regulation
and service provision, and established a regulator. As a result, for many countries,
the process included the creation of a privatized economic agent at the level of
service provision, and of an independent economic regulator at the public
administration level, without, however, leading to the creation of a market. At the
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same time, a « sunshine » regulatory authority, the Performance Review
Commission, was set up at the European level, disposing of no real power except the
one to publish reports on performance issues (McCraw, 1984). Thus, some economic
elements were incorporated into a legal-technical device.
Obviously, it would be risky to generalize from this case, and simplistic to think the
case could falsify or refute the performativity approach to economics. Interpretation
is far more complex. We will therefore insist on further potential research paths.
1. In Michel Callon‟s approach to performation or performativity, two
apparently contradictory tendencies seem to coexist. On the one hand, Michel
Callon states that, like other social sciences, economics is performative (see the
debate in Callon, 2006). On the other hand, when analyzing performativity,
Michel Callon focuses on economics in a particular manner, and, as we
discussed above, emphasizes some particular features, such as the current
trend in experimentation. Our case suggests that the two positions are not
really contradictory. One could think that two social sciences such as law and
economics have a particular status in terms of performativity (the idea that
law is different from other social sciences has been developed by Günther
Teubner from the perspective of autopoiesis; see for example Teubner, 1987).
Our case suggests that the particular status of law and economics derives from
the fact that both can at the same time define great principles (liberty,
equality and due process for law, performance for economics), and mobilize
techniques to set up devices which will operate the performative process. Law
and economics sometimes compete with each other, and that brings about
situations in which one dominates over the other, and in which the dominated
formulates strong critiques vis-à-vis the dominant. In our case, law dominates,
and economics tries to step in from the performance perspective. If our
analysis is right, the opposite situation might also be found. The question
remains open of whether other social sciences could compete with law and
economics in defining great principles to evaluate empirical situations and
mobilizing techniques to set up devices.
2. When analyzing the competitive process of performativity, it seems interesting
to pursue Foucault‟s dynamic approach, which separates moments of urgency,
especially during the creation of devices, from periods of routine. When the
ATM device was established, the object of urgency was not performance, but
the litigation between national sovereignty and liberty of flight. A legal-
technical device was adopted instead of an economic one. Only long after that,
the performance issue surfaced, in a situation characterized by a legal-
technical performation. The change towards an economization of the industry
ran against three main elements. First, inertia or path-dependence. Williamson
(1999) has highlighted that establishing a market in a different institutional
frame must be analyzed with the “remediableness” criterion in mind. Indeed,
it is always difficult to compare an existing institutional framework, with its
positive and negative, but long-operating elements, with an ideal alternative.
Status quo is not an option like others, since there is a premium on existing
devices (Beach, 1990). The second element that opposes the movement against
economization is the legal-technical device‟s capacity to innovate. As seen
above, the device was able to invent non economic algorithms to manage the
discrepancy between supply and demand of air traffic control or to establish a
AEGIS le Libellio d’
legal-technical as complex object as the FABs. Third, the existence of cross-
subsidization. Agents that seemed to favor the industry‟s economization, e.g.
air carriers, turned out in the end to be very conservative, and sought to
maintain the legal-technical device to preserve the hidden financial flows of
cross-subsidization. There thus seems to be « moments of performation », and
these moments could be of different kinds.
3. The case highlights the difficulty of identifying mechanisms through which a
law-technical device could give way to an economic device. In examining the
performation of economics, Michel Callon has identified three elements:
algorithms, devices that provide agents with calculative equipment, and
valuable, exchangeable goods. For these elements to function in our case,
public administrations would have to become calculative agencies, the
national airspace, which is an object of sovereignty, would have to be
considered a valuable good, and market devices and algorithms would have to
be established. But is it possible to set up all of this at the same time, and thus
at once replace a legal-technical device that evolved progressively over a
century? Which mechanisms could enable such a transformation, i.e. an
economic performation of the industry? The most favored one has been
privatization. A market was supposed to emerge if agents were to transform
themselves into calculative agencies. In 1998, privatized service providers
established a trade association, CANSO to promote economic behavior. As we
explained, however, two obstacles hindered the development of a market: the
existence of a competitor device, and the fact that the airspace did not become
a valuable good. In Michel Callon‟s view, the device is the crucial factor.
Devices act, more than individual agents do. But who are the agents that push
and orient the creation of a device, and with what purpose? We here turn
again to Foucault: devices are established at particular moments marked by a
sense of urgency, and with an intent linked to this urgency. The initial aim can
disappear and be replaced by another, as well as by multiple functions that
make the device last. But are there other types of mechanisms to create
devices? This question seems to remain open.
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